Here's What You Can Substitute For Fish Sauce

It's known as nam pla in Thailand, nuoc mam in Vietnam, nam pa in Laos, ngan-pya-ye in Myanmar, and patis in the Philippines (via Casa Veneracion). And while bottles of fish sauce are most commonly found in the specialty sections or in Asian supermarkets in most parts of the U.S., the pungent liquid is a star condiment in just about every corner where food is found across Southeast Asia.

Even though there are as many varieties (along with subtle taste differences) of fish sauce as there are food cultures in that part of the world, The Kitchn says the sauce is born pretty much the same way. Manufacturers typically start with small ocean fish like anchovy, which is then salted and allowed to ferment over time. They can use different types of fish such as sardines, mackerel, herring, or carp, and add other ingredients such as monosodium glutamate, sugar, and preservatives. Regardless of the tweaks, when fish sauce is served with sugar and fresh herbs like chopped basil and coriander or chili, it blesses dishes with a distinctive umami zing.

What can you use as a substitute for fish sauce?

Opened bottles of fish sauce have been known to degrade if they are not properly stored. While the sauce stays good up to six months after it is opened, it needs to be refrigerated in order to maintain its integrity. After that, you might notice clear crystals at the bottom of the bottle or particles floating in the sauce — still ok — or even signs of mold or yeast on the surface of the sauce — not ok (via Does It Go Bad). 

When that happens, and you if need fish sauce in a hurry, Stone Soup recommends you use one of three alternatives. Soy sauce is one that you might already have on hand (just start by using less soy than you would fish sauce). You can also use a combination of soy sauce and rice vinegar in a 1:1 ratio, or a mix of soy sauce and lime juice. You could also try other ingredients, like oyster sauce or miso paste.

You can make a vegan version of fish sauce at home

If you are vegetarian or vegan and fish sauce was never an option, there are many other recipes for fish sauce substitutes online, with Viet World Kitchen offering up a buying guide for vegetarian fish sauce, along with a recipe that makes use of pineapple juice, cassava syrup, and light soy sauce. 

The Cooks Illustrated alternative looks to recreate the fish sauce flavor by starting with a homemade broth made with dried Asian (shiitake) mushrooms, salt, and soy sauce. The broth is then boiled over medium heat until the liquid is reduced by half and becomes more concentrated. But unlike the fishy cousin it is meant to masquerade, this concoction needs to be refrigerated and can only be stored for up to three weeks.